Soft Power Palace


“Today, we are facing a European Union in which the past decades’ economic and social development is characterized by inequalities and difficulties. Apart from economic and military power (hard power), the Soft Power Palace (festival for independent art spaces in Europe) stands for the need to strengthen trans-European cultural exchange, exploring formats and methods of togetherness – in the spaces between art, social practice, activism, and arts education. In doing so, Soft Power Palace addresses the way in which politics are conducted

Soft Power Palace
Photo: Harald Völkl, © Soft Power Palace by Akademie Schloss Solitude

In November, Soft Power Palace took place in Stuttgart, a project by Akademie Schloss Solitude that aims to highlight the importance of small independent art initiatives and their future in Europe. Five of these small initiatives were invited to participate: Fireplace from Barcelona, ZZ Studio from Lyon, Ardesia Projects from Milan, from Stuttgart itself GmbH (A joint venture consisting of Weiny Fitui and Marco Trotta, organisers of the two projects Jacob17 and contain’t) and Æther from Sofia. With Æther Sofia, led by Voin de Voin, I myself am closely involved. Recently a first exchange project took place in The Hague under the name Æther Haga.

Photo left: Simone Gilges

Prior to a three-day festival weekend, two weeks took place in which the festival was worked towards. Also in this period the workspaces, of which each initiative had one at its disposal, were open to the public in the evening hours and developments could be followed, in addition to a daily programme of lectures, performances, concerts, debates, karaoke evenings and disco parties. You can imagine that after returning home it took me a few weeks to come back to myself. Which is a funny play on words, because at the basis of our (Æther’s) project was the notion “Becoming The Other”.

photo: Group portrait of part of the participants at GmbH’s space.

The whole took place in Kunstgebäude, where six local institutions (including Akademie Schloss Solitude) have been able to give substance to the programming over the past two years. Soft Power Palace was the final part of the process.

The conditions under which each initiative operates in its own country proved to be very different. For example, Fireplace and Ardesia Projects do not have any physical space and the first of them programs on location on occasion, supported by its own network, while the other mainly organizes residencies focused on photography, using the internet as a platform. ZZ Studio plays with the fact of being situated in a suburb of Lyon and is part of a larger collective in which the exchange of each other’s expertise is the main focus. With Æther, intensive programming from Sofia city centre takes place at an average weekly top speed and on all fronts the activities are run mainly by one person (Voin de Voin).

Soft Power Palace
ZZ Studio Lyon at Soft Power Palace - Sharing Skills

The availability of subsidies also varies. In that respect, here in The Hague we are still very lucky with the possibilities that Stroom Den Haag and the Municipality, for example with the Broedplaatsensubsidie, has to offer, even in comparison with a wealthy city like Stuttgart.

We visited contain’t, a village consisting of container-built studios, workshops and accommodations for concerts and performances, which originated from a decades-long history of forced relocations within Stuttgart. For this occasion, GmbH presented a programme that, among other things, set out this history, a constant struggle with countless bureaucratic procedures and in search of solutions for the future. At this moment their existence at the current location is also under discussion. There are advanced plans to temporarily house the opera here during an upcoming major renovation and there is not enough space for both.

Marco Trotta (left) in front of his contain't office
GMBH just before one of their Prime time talkhows. Photo: Harald Völkl, © Soft Power Palace by Akademie Schloss Solitude

In the run-up to the festival weekend Ángela Palacios and Quim Packard from Fireplace explored the possibilities of self-reliance through togetherness. They visited a number of communities within Stuttgart of which a visual report was made on the wall and in the closing weekend also with presentations of these groups themselves.

Ardesia Projects “dedicated their two weeks of residency to the exploration of visual forms, their return, their transfiguration and their categorisation through multiple voices which are both cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary.” I copy pasted from their website of which you can find the link in the list below to read the whole story of their project.

Soft Power Palace
Ardesia Projects, 'Atlas of Forms' Photo: Harald Völkl, © Soft Power Palace by Akademie Schloss Solitude

Voin de Voin, Andrew Fremont-Smith and I represented during the entire period Æther and in the second week we were accompanied by Marcus Briheim and Despina Panagiotopoulou. Some of our activities: Andrew was mainly occupied with setting up his mobile online radio station, ‘X-Subject Radio‘ with which he reported and made compilations of what was happening on the spot. Voin had compiled a handbook for transformation to ‘The Other’ from submissions by artists who responded to this subject, designed by Victoria Kieffer. We presented this publication during a performance in which we, as oracle, tried to formulate answers to questions from the audience. Marcus assisted us all when the need was at its highest. Despina Panagiotopoulou flew in from Athens where she, collectively with other Greek artists, recently started running The Salon of Bricks and Bells, to give a lecture on the role of transgression in the new right wing developments today and a workshop on the intersections of voice and language in Classical Greek tragedy and Myth. And throughout the entire period, the space in which we worked transformed daily from office to workshop space into a place that looked somewhere in between a residence of a sectarian society and a psychotherapist’s treatment room.

Foto 1, 3, 6 below: Harald Völkl, © Soft Power Palace by Akademie Schloss Solitude

Soft Power Palace
Oracle, performance Voin de Voin & Marie Civikov. Photo: Harald Völkl, © Soft Power Palace by Akademie Schloss Solitude

It were two turbulent and unforgettable weeks with valuable encounters and exchanges that may be continued.
If you want to know more about the mentioned initiatives; below you will find links to their websites and interviews with each of them that have appeared in Schloss Post, the online magazine of Akademie Schloss Solitude.

Finally, I cannot end this report without a huge thank you to Paula Kohlmann and Mareen Wrobel who, with a minimum of resources at their disposal, have managed to push this laboratory and festival to its maximum (together with the best interns, volunteers, technical staff and not to mention barkeepers and cook!). Thank You!